Friday, January 02, 2009

Banned Words

Every year Lake Superior State University in Michigan presents its List of Words to Be Banished from the Queen's English for Mis-use, Over-use and General Uselessness. I always look forward to this in the hopes that people will take heed and quit using the overworked words and phrases that are now driving me crazy. Some of my most "unfavorites" from the past are "the fact of the matter is" (which usually means here's something I want you to believe that really isn't true), and any term reduced to a string of letters or acronym (as in HLN instead of staying Headline News, one of the silliest since it doesn't use any fewer syllables than saying the entire phrase). While several words from our recent presidential campaign made this year's list, such as "maverick," I was disappointed that "my friend" did not. Truly, if John McCain called me his friend one more time, I would have throttled him right through the television screen!

This seems the perfect time for me to share my own list of words I think should be banned - not necessarily from the Queen's English entirely, but specifically from artist statements. My intention is not to offend any of you who actually use these terms, but to encourage you to get out your thesaurus and find an alternate term that isn't as tired, vague and possibly pretentious.

Number 1 on my list is "intutitively" as in "I work intuitively," or "I choose colors intuitively." I never see that but I immediately translate it as meaning, "I don't know what the heck I'm doing!" I'd much rather hear that the artist is self-tuaght or that color choice has always come naturally. I don't know why "intuitively" gets my hackles up so but it does.

Number 2 on my list puts me in nearly as much of a tailspin no matter where it is used: "serendipity," as in "I rely on serendipity when designing." What the heck does that even mean, I wondered, when years ago everyone started using it. Ah, more not knowing what you're doing, just letting the good stuff happen by accident, not to plan. Granted, I've experienced serendipity, so know that it takes some talent to recognize when an accident results in something desirable. Maybe it's the "dipi" part of it that rubs me the wrong way. Couldn't they have come up with a more sophistocated sounding word for it? Too random for my liking, this serendipity stuff. Not sure I need the public to know that's how I arrived at something in my art, let alone rely on it.

Number 3 and the last word on my list is "playful," as in "I take a playful approach to my work." I guess by now I probably don't have to explain. Yes, I understand the need to play in order to learn and discover and hone your talents. But to say you take a playful approach to your art, makes me wonder if you're hoping that by saying that, people will overlook any technical or design shortcomings the work might have. Hey, I'm being playful here, lighten up!

Ok, maybe I should lighten up. ;-) But it wouldn't hurt my feelings a bit if I never saw these three words used in an artist statement again!


Exuberant Color said...

I think a lot of artist statements are full of BS anyway. I have read a few really good, well thought out statements, and a lot that just kept writing when they should have stopped. Mandatory artist statements should be banned and only voluntary ones should be read.

Now I have probably offended someone!

The Idaho Beauty said...

Oh, no more than I probably have! Thanks for daring to share your opinion. Writing good artist statements is an art in itself, and it's amazingly easy to slip into art speak and pretentiousness, if my own experience is any indication. So if you ever read one of mine and find it full of BS, you have my permission to call me on it!

Felicity said...

Oh, you struck a chord there - I totally agree! It's the trend now to be playful, not think at all, have bl**dy FUN - aarggh! They may as well admit they are hobbyists but that's a word they'd NEVER use! Art needs thought, perseverance, practice - using fancy words never compensates for sloppy work. It takes a lot of hard work to look effortless but some believe effortless means without effort!!

Twila Grace said...

I agree! I'm trying to recall if I've ever used any of those descriptions, and ducking my head! Thanks for your honesty; we needed to hear it.


Oh plop! That's me done for then. I confess to having been intuitive about colour (as in feels right, but not sure why) I don't think I'm guilty of playful or serendipity though, so there's some hope. I shall smooth your hackles with a "there, there" and a gentle pat on the head.

In all seriousness though, there is an enormous amount of bumph written in artists statements. It sometimes feels like a different language. I sometimes wonder if it's used just to baffle on purpose, or perhaps, merely to comply with ideas set by the art establishment. (those difficult folk who decide what is and what isn't art) There is a society in England called the Society for Plain English that aims to highlight the more daft examples of pseud's speak and encourage straight forward but accurate use of the English language, in such things as application forms, insurance letters, the Civil Service etc etc. I'm not sure if they've ever tackled artists statements but I guess they should! It would be very interesting and amusing.

Pat said...

I hope you take another look at the word "intuition" (if you can stand to!). It has a pretty good basis in philosophical thought and many artists and scientists attribute their successes to it. Honest!

The Idaho Beauty said...

Pat, I'm not saying that working intuitively is not valid. I'm just saying it is an overused term when it comes to artist statements, and for some reason, it riles me more than the word "intuition" does - go figure. But mostly, I object to it when the art itself doesn't seem to bear out that the artist knows what he/she is doing and is trying to cover up by calling it "intuitive." It seems to dare the viewer to disagree, to say, Whatever I end up with has to be right because it was "intuitive."

And so, Anabelle, if I am looking at YOUR work and read that you worked intuitively, it probably wouldn't bother me, because your choices, your outcomes work for me. If you arrive at that intuitively, I'd nod and say, lucky you, because color choice is NOT that intuitive to me. You obviously are not hiding behind words and hoping to convince the viewers.